This week I’ve been invited to write a list of Top Ten things I love about being a therapist. (It’s part of a therapists’ blogging challenge that a colleague has organised). But I’ve only got a very short time available to write this — so here goes, off the top of my head:
1. I Get to Dive Deep
I’m one of those people who isn’t all that great at small talk in social situations. When I’m standing in a group of people at a party, a glass in one hand and maybe a canapé in the other, I’ll probably be smiling politely. But really, I’ll be impatiently waiting for a chance to hunker down in a cosy corner with one person and have a deep-diving chat about life, relationships, and feelings.
So for me, being a therapist is amazing, because every day I get to have really meaningful, sometimes life-changing, one-to-one conversations with people about what really matters to them. What could be more interesting (and satisfying)!
2. I Get to Play
It can be really fun being an Art therapist. In my therapy room I have clay, play-dough, sandtray & miniatures, paints, pastels, collage materials, felt-tips and even puppets. And even in the many sessions where no arts materials get used (or in online therapy) we still might dip into the imagination, dreams, and metaphors. This helps us to engage the right hemisphere of our brains, and make the therapy experiential (so we’re not just “talking about” things, but we’re having brain-changing experiences in the session). This is serious fun!
3. I Get to Connect
The kind of therapy I do involves emotions. Most people who come to me are looking for help with their emotions — either they’ve found themselves feeling things ‘too much’ (their emotions feel overwhelming, unmanageable, or scary) or they’ve been feeling things ‘too little’ (they’ve been feeling numb, flat, or can’t link their feelings to their difficulties in relationships or work). My work involves helping my clients connect to their emotions in a way that feels safe, manageable, and healing. This work is done in the context of the relationship and connection between us. Me connecting to my client helps them connect to themselves, and helps us both connect to one another.The top 10 things I love about being a therapist. Click To Tweet
4. I Get Paid to Do What I Love
It might seem strange that I could love work that is challenging, often difficult, requires alertness and concentration, and can involve listening to some very painful stuff. But I am well supported by several things. These include lots of training, quite a few years of experience, my own therapy, and excellent professional supervision. Being paid to do this work is another crucial thing that supports me, so that I am available to support my clients in turn. This way I don’t have to turn my attention and energies elsewhere and look for another source of income.
5. Learning Feels Like Fun
Honestly, some of the trainings I go to are really enjoyable experiences! They’re intensive, sure, and require lots of concentration and quite a bit of soul-searching and vulnerability. (Yes, in the trainings I go to, we are often required to bare our soul being the client in practice sessions, where someone else practises their therapy skills with us, all whilst we’re scrutinised by a group of our peers and an instructor! Talk about exposing…) But for me, all of this is fascinating. The mark of a good training is that excited feeling of ‘Ooh, I can’t wait to get back to my clients and use this!’
And (whisper) I even love reading therapy textbooks…
6. I Meet Cool People
Some of the most interesting, thoughtful, kind, funny and friendly people I know are therapists. Not all therapists fit this description, of course, but a great many do. I meet some of them on trainings, and others I connect with online. I feel so fortunate to get to meet them, and to make friendships with therapists both local and also from all around the world.
And some of the other most remarkable, inspiring people? My clients. They don’t tend to recognise this about themselves, but they’re quite amazing, and it’s such a privilege for me to get to know them. (And if you’re a client of mine, past or present, reading this, yes I’m talking about you!!)
7. I’m Never Bored
One thing about relational, experiential therapy: it’s rarely boring. (Or on the rare occasions when it is, that’s usually a sign that something needs to be attended to, rather urgently!) Most people struggle with similar issues (four of the big ones being: How do I negotiate being close to others but needing my own space?/ How do I stop my emotions from overwhelming me?/ How do I heal my aloneness?/ How do I stop doing this harmful thing to myself?) But in each individual these issues show up in a unique way. And there’s no cookie-cutter method to work with people. As a therapist, I also have to bring my whole, authentic self to sessions, if I want therapy to work well. Challenging, yes; but never boring!
8. It’s Creative
My first degree was in Fine Art, and I’ve made art all my life. So it’s no surprise that I’ve always valued creativity, both in myself and in others. And I find that therapy can be such a creative activity. I get to be alongside someone as they connect with their unique feelings, thoughts and values. They’re gradually becoming more and more of who they really are. This is creativity in action!
The famous sculptor Michelangelo talked of how each time he had a fresh slab of marble, he would begin to sense a sculpted figure hidden within. He felt that in chipping away at the block, he was liberating the beauty within and gradually freeing the imprisoned sculpted form. In therapy, it’s a bit like my client is the sculptor, and I’m helping them sense into what’s needed. Occasionally I might hand them a tool. They get better and better at tuning in to what’s hidden within, in a way that feels manageable and safe. And just like with Michelangelo’s sculptures, the beauty and ‘rightness’ becomes more and more evident.
Every therapy session is co-created between me and my client. We are constantly creating the process together; every single emotion, thought and intervention becomes the stepping-off point for something brand new in that moment. It’s very exciting!
9. Things Link Up
The journey of becoming a therapist has been fascinating, partly because of the links that keep getting made. I’ve experienced this linking on many levels. There are the links between different ideas, themes and situations in the world. There are the links between myself and others (being a therapist really helped me realise quite how similar we humans are, in certain ways — especially in our wounded places). And there are the intra-psychic links: the links between the different parts of me and my experiences.
As Dr Dan Siegel says, healthy psychological integration always involves both differentiation and linking. Think of a choir: there are many different parts, which can create complex, satisfying and incredibly beautiful harmonies. When we can understand and feel our experience in ways that are both differentiated and linked, things feel more and more integrated — settled and creatively active at the same time.
10. It Helps Me Understand Myself
My training to become a therapist involved several years of regular weekly personal therapy. This has been crucial for helping me be present for my clients, helping me identify more clearly what’s ‘my stuff’ and what’s theirs.
But the benefit hasn’t only been for my clients. Personal therapy has been a truly life-changing experience for me (you can read more about that here and also here). I understand myself better, which is very, very cool! I can connect to my emotions much more easily than I used to, and now it doesn’t feel so scary or overwhelming to do that. I can see where my pitfalls tend to be — like knowing where a pothole is, so that I’m more able to choose to walk around it instead of yet again falling straight in.
One More Thing, Though…
It doesn’t feel right to end this blog post without at least mentioning some of the difficult things about being a therapist. For starters, the responsibility is enormous! Every day we are working with people’s souls and minds, and there’s always a potential for great damage. We have to be careful, skilful and incredibly respectful — and even then, we can (and sometimes do) make mistakes. Also, we have to be reliable, not flaky, and show up for our clients week after week. And we have to be committed to continually reflecting honestly (and sometimes painfully) on our own processes. Another thing that happens sometimes is that despite our attentive care, and our best efforts, a client might not find therapy helpful. Most of us don’t actually earn much (despite what appears to be a good hourly rate, it’s offset by huge expenses in terms of ongoing training, supervision costs, professional insurance, room rental and costs of belonging to professional associations). And therapists in private practice don’t get sick pay or holiday pay. So whilst my list of the top 10 things I love about being a therapist is all true, it isn’t the whole picture!
What About You?
Are you a therapist? What do you love about this profession? Tell us in the comments below! And if this article is inspiring you to start thinking about perhaps training to become a therapist, make sure to read this article by my colleague Jodie Gale.